Sunday, 15 November 2009

Dancing with Mr Darcy

Dancing with Mr Darcy is quite difficult to review because it's lots of short stories written by lots of different authors, so while I liked one story, I didn't necessarily like the next.
The principal behind the book was a short story competition, whereby people had to submit stories that were either influenced by the works of Jane Austen or by Chawton House.

As I say, it's difficult to review the book as a whole because there are so many different authors and stories, so I'll pick out a few that stood out for me in one way or another.

Jane Austen over the Styx by VIctoria Owens. This is the story that opens the book, so you need something that's going to keep the reader interesting and encourage them to read the rest of the book. I don't know that I'd label this as the best book in the collection, but I did rather enjoy it. It tells the story of Jane Austen's trial after her death, where her prosecutors are her elderly female characters, I liked the concept of the story and it was quite an enjoyable few pages.

Jayne by Kirsty Mitchell. I have to say that I'm not sure whether all die hard Austen fans will like this one, although I thought it was an interesting take. Taking Jane's view and money and wealth this story follows Jayne as she makes the money to pay her way through her education and what lengths she goes to. Personally I found it one of the most enjoyable stories in the collection, but I think there is a slightly hard edge to it that will put people off, as will Jayne's way of making money.

Tears Fall of Orkney by Nancy Saunders. I'm sorry Ms Saunders, but I couldn't see where you were going with this one. I understand the inspiration and how you came up with the story, but I kept waiting for it to actually start or for something to explain what was going on. It's a tale of unrequited love, but I personally couldnt work out how this character had allowed herself to become so dellusioned in the first place, and consequently found it very frustrating.

Eight Years Later by Elaine Grotefield. To my mind the most 'Austen' story of the collection, a story that Jane would have been proud of, and also, as far as I can remember, the only one written by from a male pont of view. I proper Austen love story, really liked it.

One Character in Search of her Love Story Role by Felicity Cowie. I have rather mixed feelings about this, I loved the concept (really wish I'd thought of it first) but I'm not so sure about the writing style. The premise is that authors do not write characters, characters send reports of what they have been doing to their author, and as such, before they can send reports, they go to 'shadow' other literary characters to learn from them. A fabulous and, to me, very original idea. I had two main problems with this. Felicity Cowie was a little over fond of footnotes, sometimes taking as much as half a page for a foot note which got on my nerves, and I lost interest half way through. The character shadows Jane Bennett which was a lovely and rather touching conversation but when she started to shadow Jane Eyre, I started to lose interest. I don't know why, Jane Eyre is probably one of my favourite books, but I found that I couldnt warm to the Jane that Ms Cowie wrote and couldn't believe that she would speak like that.

I haven't mentioned all the stories in the collection, just a few that stood out to me for whatever reason. Overall if you are an Austen fan then I probably would recommend reading this, if only to see what takes other people have on the characters, ideas and situations that develop from Jane Austen's work


Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Simply Perfect by Mary Balogh

Simply Perfect by Mary Balogh could possibly be described in one sentence, predicatable regency romance. However, I'll try to go into a little more detail than that.
Firstly, this is the final in a quartet, and I haven't read the first three, however, I don't think I was missing much essential information from the last three books, suffice to say, I suspect that they all ended happily, but, if by any chance you couldn't guess how the other three might have ended, reading this one will, technically give that away. However, if you pick up something like this then you pretty much know how it's going to end anyway.
So, basic plot. Claudia Martin is the head mistress at a girls school in Bath and is planning on going to Bath with two of her charity girls who have been offered work. Her match making friends have sent Joseph Fawcitt to escort her to London. Yeah, you guessed it, two pages max before you figure out how this is going to end. However, there are a few other characters thrown in, mainly to either get in the way of their romance or to try and assist it. Including Joseph's fiance and a man from Claudia's past.
However, this isn't quite as appalling as I'm making it out to be. Yes bits of it are predictable, but not all of it. I'd say that I'm quite cynical when reading romances, but there were actually a couple of twists that I didn't guess (and did kick myself for not getting), one relatively early on and one quite near the end.
Writing wise, Mary Balogh does have the deceny to avoid most of the obvious sexual cliches, which makes a pleasant change, yes, there are a couple of sex scenes, but by the standards of such books they're relatively tasteful, and I don't remember a single mention of a heaving bosom.
Writing in general, pretty good, I did find myself getting quite fond of Claudia, she was well written. She's isn't pathetic and waiting to be rescued, but Balogh also hasn't written a modern woman who just happens to be living in a Regency world. Claudia is confident and capable of looking after herself, but she lives in the right period.
Overall, quite enjoyable, pretty predictable. I probably would leave another couple of her books, they're good fun, trash, romantic reads that you don't have to concentrate on.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Avenue Q

Went to London over the weekend and saw Avenue Q while we were there, technically it's neither film or book, but it's in the same line, so why not?
First and foremost, it has to be said that I thought it was absolutely brilliant, saw it with my boyfriend and mother (interesting combination) and we all really enjoyed it.
So, cast we saw
Christmas Eve: Joanna Ampil
Brian: Christopher Fry
Gary Coleman: Edward Baruwa
Nicky/Trekkie Monster/Bad Idea Bear: Tony Parsons
Princeton/Rod: Daniel Boys
Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut: Cassidy Janson
Bad Idea Bear/Mrs T: Maria Lawson
The synopsis is relatively simply, a group of people live on Avenue Q, mainly because they can't afford to live anywhere better. Princeton has just graduated and has no idea what to do. Brian has just been laid off from work, his fiance, Christmas Eve, is a qualified therapist but has no clients, Kate is a teacher's assistant, Gary Coleman is the child star now working as a maintenance man on the avenue, Rod and Nicky are house mates who drive each other mad and Trekkie Monster is described as a pervert by everyone else. The basic premise is watching the lives, relationships and romances develop between these characters.
At the risk of stating the obvious, this is not a show to take your kids to, a couple of rows in front of us were some parents with their (quite young) children, those children probably got an education that they wouldn't normally get until many years later. With songs like 'The Internet is for Porn' and 'You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You're Making Love)' this probably explains why you shouldn't take your kids.
The show is very much an ensemble piece, so it seems unfair to comment on individual performances, but it's difficult to not have particlar performances stand out in your mind.
Joanna Ampil has got a hell of a voice on her, because of the character she plays and accent she generally puts on, it doesn't come across, but in 'The More You Ruv Someone' her voice shines through, and it's beautiful.
Tony Parsons is actually the understudy for Nicky/Trekkie/Bad Idea Bear, but he was superb in the role, and I find it difficult to imagine how it could be performed better, he has such an expressive face, and quite rubbery as well, I often found myself watching his performance when he wasn't the main character on stage at the time.
Brilliant show, really funny as well, all three of us found it very funny, mainly at the same bit, but not always. I have to admit to finding the Bad Idea Bears very funny, although my mum thought that they were really creepy.
This pulls up many parallels with Sesame street, like the little cartoon animations to explains new concepts and words, but much ruder and much funnier than you'd ever find in Sesame Street.
We went because we were going to be in London for a night out, I booked the tickets because they were a good price. I knew what Avenue Q was and was quite interested in going, my mum knew a little bit because I'd mentioned it to her and my boyfriend had never really heard of it before I mentioned it, but we all had a brilliant night out all the same.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Magician's Guild - Trudi Canavan

Okay, finished reading Trudi Canvan's The Magician's Guild this evening, and have kinda come out with mixed feelings about what I thought. I quite enjoyed it, but I'm not really sure that that can be counted as a review in itself.
So, what happens? Sonea is a 'dwell' (lower classes, when the city is cleared each year they're evicted), when the Magicians are carrying out the clearance one year she throws a stone at the Magicians, and to everyones surprise it breaks their shield and injures a Magician, thus begins a hunt by the guild to find Sonea.
And that's really where my mixed feelings about the book come in, I enjoyed reading it, it was quite interesting and I quite liked Canavan's writing style but you can only read 'they ran away and hid somewhere else' (I'll admit that I'm paraphrasing) before it becomes a bit repetative. To my mind the running away and hiding was dragged out far longer than it needed to be, it could have been done in half the time and then moved onto the next bit of the plot.
This was obviously written with the idea for the full trilogy in mind because it throws up many unanswered questions that presumably will be answered in the next two books. For instance creepy old men hiding in the slums from the Magician's Guild, and what to my mind seemed like undisclosed pasts for half of the characters that obviously need to be discovered throughout the course of the next two books.
One thing that I did find slightly off putting was Canavan's a slight habit of referring about the history between characters as though I should already know about it, as though I'd missed a book out that I should have read first.
As often seems to be the case, I found that I wasn't as interested in Sonea as I was the characters around her. Two Magicians, Dannyl and Rothen, I liked and look forward to reading more about, and a thief from within the slums called Feran. And of course we have a touch of youthful romance to be exanded upon in the next two books and someone who is not what they seem who will have to be exposed throughout the trilogy.
I enjoyed this and I will at some point track down the next two to see what happens and how it ends, but I won't be rushing out to buy them. Having said that I have sinced tracked down a couple of other books by the same author to see what her other trilogies are like. The Magician's Guild was, I think, written for children, so I'm intrigued to see how her writing changes, if at all, for an older audience.